According to legal expert Quirine van Maanen, going into business together is a bit like marriage.
“Sometimes there can be hesitancy and it’s a bit like a courtship,” she explains. “First of all we’ll dance around each other and maybe have a little kiss, then we’ll see if we like each other and then you might do the formal part…”
Of course, the mergers and acquisitions specialist from the Netherlands is not suggesting you actually get up close and personal with a potential partner or investor, but there’s a lot to be said for a corporate courtship when it comes to sharing your hopes and dreams – and profits – with someone else.
The joy of shared values
We know there’s a lot to gain from collaboration, like fresh inspiration, new skills, sharing burdens and resources and companionship, but what should you look for before taking the plunge? For Quirine, it all starts with understanding what you’re lacking yourself and finding a common direction.
“It’s not something you can contract,” she says. “It can be intuition and a gut feeling – do I like you? Do I want to work with you? – but it also has to be based on trust and common values. If you’re both serious entrepreneurs and you both have an idea of where you’re going, you can help each other; there’s a synergy and you can move forward on that.”
This is an area with which Quirine is familiar, particularly as she herself provides legal and strategic advice to start-ups. To use the old ‘opposites attract’ analogy, she often finds that the best partnerships are those where the collaborators are different characters with one the entrepreneur, the other a visionary.
“Someone can be the extrovert, the other the introvert. One is on the inside of the company and the other is the face of the company. If you don’t want to be the front-runner, you have to be prepared to contribute to the other person’s success. Both of you should fully understand and respect the different roles and understand that you need each other because you can’t survive or be successful without the other.”
Time to make a commitment…
So, once you’ve found the one, as it were, how do you go about formalising your partnership? To channel the celebrity vibe – think Kim and Kanye – a business pre-nup is a good way to go.
“You can draft an agreement or a term sheet detailing certain phases, certain milestones. It can be a living document so that changes can be made if you both agree, but you have to ask yourselves ‘are we moving forward?’ ‘are we hitting the milestones?’. As you hit the milestones, you get to the go/no-go point and this makes everything clearer. Everyone should understand what their responsibilities are and what the end point is. And of course if you have a document and you have to put your signature on it, that’s the emotional tie – I have signed for this.”
And finally… show your vulnerability
So, if you’re ready to look for that special person, Quirine has one last piece of advice.
“Know what you haven’t got and be honest about it,” she says emphatically. “Decide what you want and don’t rush the initial ‘friendship’ stages. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your network, your contacts can help you or put you in front of someone else who can.”
You see? Even blind dates can lead to lasting relationships.